7 balancing acts for 2021

What a year!

The number of highs, lows, laughs, and tears I’ve experienced has been phenomenal. So has the number of lessons I’ve learned.

Back in the spring when the pandemic was new, a philosophical friend asked what I hoped to be at its end. My too quick, and in retrospect too flippant, answer? Alive.

Given the multitude of other events that have occurred this year—social unrest, natural disasters, a tumultuous election, and more, if my friend were to ask me that same question today, my answer would be slightly different: to be alive and to be a better person.

If I’m a better person, then I can make a more worthy contribution to making the world a better place, right?

Over the years, through experience and inspirational people, I learned that making the world a better place happens when we recognize that life is full of opposing goods. Yep, opposing goods.

Almost every situation that isn’t a math problem has two rights answers that seem contradictory. Because the two outcomes—things like focusing on results or relationships—seem to be in conflict, we select one of the two and focus on making it so.

Sometimes we focus too much and get stuck in a thinking rut of “what’s right and what’s wrong” camps. We become polarized. That’s when disdain, contempt, fear, anger, and division enter the picture. Where’s the joy and betterment in all that negativity?

Being a better person is hard work. Freaking, crazy hard work. Hard work means perpetually making sure that I’m not ignoring one good because I prefer or can better relate to another. To assure that my mind and heart stay open, I must be self-aware and self-regulate.

Making the world around me a better place is worth the effort. It’s the butterfly effect in action—my small acts can result in larger differences in a later state.

As events have unfolded across the year, what’s been apparent to me are the battles occurring between opposing goods. Everyone is right, yet few reach across and up in pursuit of the greater good.

Some battles between opposing goods I’ve observed, experiences, or been hurt by in 2020 include:

Me and we.

Taking care of ourselves is important. So is taking care of others. Everyone’s well-being matters. The actions of many people make my freedom possible. To balance me and we, I must be altruistic and watch out for their well-being the same as I do mine.

Flexible and firm.

My values are important to me just as yours are to you. However, if our values are different, that difference doesn’t make one of us the enemy. Difference and diversity make life interesting. An ice cream parlor that served only vanilla would get boring pretty fast—to all of us. I work to be respectful of those whose values and opinions differ from mine.

Speech and silence.

Parents, educators, friends, and more encourage us to make our voices heard. Peer pressure and the desire to fit in influence us to remain silent. I have to seeks the wisdom to know when the time is right to speak and do so with grace and respect.

Style and substance.

There’s more to life than securing social media likes. (Cue the rolling of my granddaughter's eyes.) Just to name a few, there’s caring, critical thinking, generosity, connection, integrity, and authenticity. As they’re hollow separately, I have to remember to make room for both style and substance.

Today and tomorrow.

Bosses reward us for finding the quick fix. Being patient and thinking about the long-term can result in us being labeled slow or out of touch. I have to make it a point to pause and reflect on both the present and the future—and communicate to others what I’m doing and why.

Togetherness and solitude.

When we think about solitude, there’s a tendency to equate it with being lonely. That view paints an incorrect picture of solitude. When we enjoy peace and quiet, we can be alone, yet still have many voices, memories, and the like swirling in our heads and hearts. I can enjoy the beauty of sunset sitting alone on the dock and remember the time my best friend and I watched the sunset together on a sandy beach. I can choose to include thoughts of and appreciation for others in my solitude or have it be something I’m doing to renew myself.

Logic and emotion.

I’m in the Elie Wiesel school of thought that indifference is the opposite of love, not hate, “for at a minimum, to love or hate someone is to have intense emotions toward them.” There’s room for measured logic and emotion in all we do. I work to balance my head and heart and bring love, compassion, and kindness to my interactions with all those I encounter.

What opposing goods will you balance in 2021?

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